On first inspection Brakes (2016) is a lo-fi new British comedy that is quite cynical about love in what could be termed an anti-Valentine part comedy relationship portmanteau. Not really a rom-com as much as a cyni-rom. The film stars a whole host of familiar British names and faces from film and TV and is the first directorial and written (well partially) effort from actress Mercedes Grower who also co-stars in the scenes with well known British comedian Noel Fielding.
Filmed as a series of ad-libbed sketches of approximately 10 vigenettes built around Grower’s basic instructive script, the film opens with an inter-title telling us that this is Part Two which doesn’t become clear until later in the film. In the opening vignette, we see a gay couple the day after a one-night stand. They are standing with ice-cream at low tide on the banks of the Thames on London’s South Bank. One of the pair clearly regrets the one night stand while the other over-bearing lover (Julian ‘The Mighty Boosh’ Barrett) harasses him on the foreshore. The humour, as well as Barrett’s comic turn, lies in the faux romantic beach romance (with ice-cream) that is replaced by a polluted Thames foreshaw.
One of the better and even dominating of the vignettes is Julia Davis;s turn as Livy, a young woman who is trying to get an acting gig with a well known theatre manager (Peter Wight) and seems rather desperately pathetic in the process. It is only when we make it to the next part of the film, annotated with the intertitle Part One do we get the significance of ‘Part Two’. As alredy established the first part of the film is quite depressing over all. Just when you thought this was a very cynical film, it shows how in the next part how they all met and, it would seem relatively recent. Never the less we are still aware that this all leads to the ineviatable break-ups of most of these characters. In this sense the humour of the film is fairly nihilistic about relationships.
Of course some are worse than others and others, such as the part with Grower and Fielding rather childish. One scene which takes place on an overground train platform between Paul McGann (from Withnail and I, 1987) and Kate Hardie’s characters as a maturer couple breaking up on the platform. We later see how they met at a library. Meanwhile, the scenes with Roland Gift (former singer of the group, Fine Young Cannibals) as a bored businessman feel underdeveloped. The backdrop to the film and in a sense the co-star is London itself, from Soho to the Thames, an overground station and in and around other locales.
But as with any films in which the dialogue ad-libbed the results are patchy and seemed to go off in random directions. The filming looks cheap too with the aspect ratio seeming to want to change from shot to shot. This is a small that has its moments but is ultimately undistiunguished. The only extras on the disc are a bloopers reel and cut sequences.